23. St Margaret’s Bay – Heritage Coast
The spectacular countryside and landscape surrounding St Margeret’s is steeped in history and can be appreciated all year round. It is the closest part of England to France – only 21 miles separates the two countries and so St Margaret’s is often the starting point for cross Channel swimmers. The Bay and surrounding area for centuries was the haunt of smugglers and the coastline the scene of many wrecks, lying so close to the Goodwin Sands.
If the tide is out you can walk along the shingle beach and look for fossils, dabble in rock pools or play ‘skimmers’ and see how many times you can get the pebble to bounce in the water.
St Margaret’s developed as a holiday resort in late Victorian times when it was considered a place to retreat for the rich and famous. During the war the local people were evacuated, and the area was occupied by the troops. It became known as ‘Hell Fire Corner’ because of the continual bombardment.
The little cove of St Margaret’s Bay is well off the beaten track down a very narrow, windy road (not recommended for caravans or camper vans). There are no early records of the area, but the church was built between 1140 and 1298 on an earlier Saxon site. In 1367 a hermit monk called Nicholas de Leogh kept a light burning in a cave to warn sailors of the dangerous shores. In more modern times Thomas Edison tried out the first electric light at the lighthouse in 1859.